Lee Belding wants to find the best ways to bring graduate students out of their research shells without emergency measures being involved.
Belding, the 2014-15 president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), likes to tell a story from a few years ago when graduate students were forced out of their labs and offices due to a fire alarm.
A group of them gathered at a table in Isaac’s waiting for the all clear so they could get back to work.
“Over a beer, we started talking about our research and two of the students from different departments, who didn’t know each other very well, realized they were doing similar research,” he says.
It was a fortuitous meeting. The students – one from the physics program and the other from the biological sciences program – went on to collaborate on a project that resulted in a publication.
It’s that kind of scenario – without the fire alarm of course – that the GSA has been hard at work to create over the past few years, says Belding.
“Graduate students love to talk about what they are doing and we want to give them more opportunities to do just that,” says the 27-year-old PhD student in Chemistry.
A top priority for the GSA is to expand events and activities – from fun recreational and social activities to informal research events such as Research On Tap.
They started the year with a successful Orientation Week bingo night as between 150 and 200 graduate students turned out. And, they had the same numbers out to a recent barbeque.
Belding also wants to create more resources for graduate students.
One of those projects is an online housing registry that the GSA is pursuing with the help of off-campus housing.
Working alongside Belding is a strong executive team that includes: Amanda Longo, Vice President Student Affairs, (PhD student, Applied Health Sciences); Natalie Trojanowski, Vice President Communications, (MSc student, Applied Health Sciences); Amy Pham, Vice President Finance, (MSc student, Chemistry); Terry Soleas, Vice President Equity and External Affairs, (MEd student, Education); Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Senate Representative, (PhD student, Interdisciplinary Humanities); Christopher Ventura, Senate Representative, (MEd student, Education); Joshua Bowslaugh, Board of Trustees Representative, (MSc student, Applied Health Sciences); and Michael Ou, Vice President International, (MEd student, Education).
Belding recognizes that the 1,800 master’s and doctoral students at Brock are very discriminating when it comes to deciding how and when to take time away from research.
That’s a reflection of the commitment and dedication that graduate students have, he says, when it comes to their studies and to their responsibilities in teaching and research at Brock.
“It’s a quick transformation going from being an undergrad student to grad student. There’s quite a different student mindset when you hit grad school. You have to be more independent and you’re taking more responsibility and accountability, especially if you’ve received funding.
“It’s nice to sit down with like-minded people who understand how hard it is.”
Belding believes graduate students can’t afford to become isolated in their work – professionally or personally.
He’s the first to admit his horizons have expanded in all directions since becoming a graduate student and that includes the decision to first serve as a program representative on the GSA.
“Being a graduate student is more than just research, it is an opportunity to expand your professional connections, experience new things, and grow as a person,” he says.
“My graduate student experience has been full of so many new experience. I have joined a band, learned to speak some Persian, and even went curling for the first time.”
Belding also discovered an entrepreneurial spirit and is excited about his involvement in two start-up companies.
He’s President and co-CEO at Meta Valent Solutions, a company involved primarily in the development of new industrial processes.
Belding is also putting his time and energy into being the Director of Product Development at Rep Nation, a clothing company started by two friends and Brock alumni Kevin MacDonald and Andrew Dorn.
“The graduate culture is stimulating, exciting, and busy, and provides an exceptional working environment. The GSA is going to keep telling grad studies to take advantage of it (because) it’s what makes graduate students such a diverse and unique community with so much to offer Brock.”